The fall meetings of the Society of American Florists (SAF) started today in Phoenix Arizona. The first day is reserved for meetings of the three Councils:
Retail: Representing the needs of the retail industry segment within the Society of American Florists, comprised primarily of successful retail shops, each from a different geographic area.
Growers: Representing the needs of the grower industry segment within SAF.
Wholesalers: Representing the needs of the wholesale industry segment within SAF.
Maris Angolia of Karin's Florist in Virginia, chair of the Retail Council, was kind enough to let me sit in on her meeting. All of the councils do important work but the retail council gives me the best chance to pick up on things of interest to our FloristWare clients.
Member Services Manager Brian Gamberini spoke first. Among other things Brian coordinates membership recruitment/retention activities, manages SAFPAC and develops new products/member benefits. He explained that he has – at the urging of some member florists – been working on a special deal for SAF members with Wedding Wire. So far he has been able to negotiate a great discount of 10% but he isn't stopping there – he is also trying to get an SAF member "badge" to appear next to the listings of member florists, adding even more value for them.
He also outlined an exciting new program with Ford Motors. SAF member can contact Ford and get a Fleet Identification Number, which in turn gets them deeply discounted pricing from Ford Dealers. And it is not just trucks and other delivery vehicles - the discounts extends to a great many models. Brian is trying to secure a similar deal with General Motors.
As is often the case a number of "it would be great if we could get..." type questions received "we already offer that on the SAF website" answers. The amount (and quality) of resources available to SAF members on the SAF website continues to surprise even SAF insiders. This time the big surprise was a gallery of high quality product images available to members free of charge.
Senior Director of Government Relations Corey Connors spoke next. Corey is a small business lobbyist focussed on issues affecting the vertically-integrated floriculture supply chain. One of the things he talked about was helium – a non-renewable resource that many flower shops rely on to fill balloons.
The short version is that the world is running out of helium and florists should expect price increases and shortages in the near future. Long term it probably simply will not be available for non-essential uses like balloons as it is needed for more critical applications in research, health care and law enforcement. Meanwhile balloon suppliers are looking for possible replacements and workarounds (like air-filled balloons with rods to hold them upright in arrangements) but there is no real substitute on the horizon.
Corey also talked about potential tax reform relating to advertising. The idea is that instead of advertising costs being recorded as business expenses as they are accrued they would instead have to be accrued over a two or three year period. This has serious implications for florists who have a lot of advertising expenses. The good news is that this also affects many other parties so SAF has a lot of allies in this one.
A highlight of the Retail Council meeting is always hearing from each of the members as they give a quick report on how things are going at their shops. It often seems like there is very little hope in this industry so hearing from these florists is always very inspiring.
All but one member reported significant growth. The only one that was down was excited about 2014, reporting they already had enough wedding bookings to ensure that they would have a better year.
What are these shops doing right? You hear the same things over and over again. One common thread is a commitment to education and the exchange of ideas in a structured environment. These owners are all taking time away from their shops to attend these meetings. They'll be at every session, learning new things and then discussing them into the night.
They also keep reinvesting in their shops - new signs, better locations, etc. Whenever possible they buy shops, even if they frequently close them and just use the phone number and customer list – a proven strategy for growth. All use trainers and consultants - almost every single one mentioned Tim Huckabee, many others Derrick Myers. These are some of the most succesful operators in the country but they rely on outside experts to help them. Getting help is not an admission of failure, it is an investment in success and these shops prove it.